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  • Apr 15, 2020

Eighty Two and Ready for Venice


On April 13, the Istanbul Foundation for Arts and Culture (İKSV) announced that artist Füsun Onur would represent Turkey at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2021. The pavilion will be curated by Bige Örer, the current director of the Istanbul Biennial and contemporary art projects at İKSV. 

Born in 1938, Onur has become an Istanbul legend. She lives with her sister Ilhan in the red Bosphorus-facing house where they were born. After studying figurative sculpture at the Istanbul State Academy of Fine Arts in the 1960s, Onur began making minimalist sculptures—several of which, she has occasionally claimed, she pushed into the water because they took up too much space in the house. Over the years, along with producing austere, modernist sculptures, she has also constructed sculptures with dolls and doll furniture, as well as installations incorporating a wide range of materials such as fabrics, embroidery, and other everyday items from perfume bottles to pumpkins and paperclips. In interviews, Onur has described her practice as a “silent music,” with the objects that she uses serving as notes in her spatial compositions. 

Since her first solo exhibition in 1970 at the Taksim Art Gallery, Onur has been recognized in Turkey as one of the country’s most original artists. Her works were the subject of a major retrospective, “Through the Looking Glass,” curated by Emre Baykal at Arter in 2014. She gained international recognition when curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev selected her for Documenta 13 in 2012, where she exhibited a 1993 untitled desk chair with a locked metal chain across the seat and Dance of the Crows (2012), an embroidered textile work hanging from the window featuring birds flying in formations over a village. For the 2015 Istanbul Biennial, again working with Christov-Bakargiev, Onur showcased Sea (2015), a small white fishing boat that puttered up and down the Bosphorus playing recordings of a woman reading passages from the Odyssey. Several of Onur’s works were shown in Venice in 2019 in the group exhibition “Heartbreak,” organized by Ruya Maps. 

Speaking of its selection of Onur, the advisory board commented that Onur is “one of the rare artists to form a poetic relationship between life and art beyond just artworks, but as a way of being. Onur explores the fundamental orientations of conceptual art through her own poetry.” Members of the board include Serhan Ada from Bilgi University; Özalp Birol, general manager of Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, Culture and Arts Enterprises, which runs the Pera Museum; artist İnci Eviner, who exhibited in the Turkey Pavilion in 2019; Milovan Farronato, director of Fiorucci Art Trust; and writer and magazine editor Fisun Yalçınkaya. 

The 59th Venice Biennale is scheduled to run from May until November, 2021. 

HG Masters is the deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.

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